California oil spillage legal battle likely to last for years

From the moment that a major oil leak was detected off Southern California, it took less than 48 hours for the first lawsuit to be filed against Houston-based company that owned and operated the ruptured pipeline.

California oil spillage legal battle likely to last for years

It will take longer to find the cause, determine who is responsible and decide if they will be held responsible.

Multiple federal and state agencies are simultaneously investigating the cause of the pipeline rupture. They also examine how fast the operators responded to the incident and decide whether criminal charges should be filed.

Coast Guard Capt. Jason Neubauer stated that investigators are looking for the ship from the thousands that may have captured the pipeline and its anchor during the past year. This could be possible in rough seas or high winds in January.

Neubauer stated, "We aren't ruling out anyone at the moment."

First reported on Oct. 1 was a possible leak from the Orange County coast, south of Los Angeles. The next morning, the spillage was confirmed. Crude came ashore at Huntington Beach, then spread to other beaches. Businesses that cater to boaters and beachgoers were left with little to no choice but to close down large swathes of coastline.

According to the Coast Guard, there were approximately 25,000 gallons (94.635 liters), and 132,000 (495.889 liters), of spilled water.

Investigators may take some time to review marine tracking data in order to determine which ships passed by and were anchored near the Amplify Energy pipeline that runs from platform Elly to Long Beach.

Federal prosecutors, Coast Guard, and other federal agencies could investigate and bring criminal and civil charges against the Coast Guard, as well as new laws and regulations.

"Criminal cases -- when warranted -- you absolutely want after for all reasons that you pursue criminal prosecutions: accountability, deterrence and punishment," stated attorney Rohan Virginkar. He was an assistant U.S. Attorney who assisted in prosecuting BP in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil leakage in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It's really about finding someone who will pay for the cleanup in these environmental cases."

Neubauer stated that Coast Guard investigators have already boarded two vessels. They plan to find others, many of them from overseas. They will inspect anchors for any damage, as well as review logs that were kept by captains, deck officers, engineers, and the voyage recorder, which is the equivalent to the black box on planes. They will interview the crew.

Virginkar stated that prosecutors do not have to prove negligence under certain environmental laws to be convicted. This could result in a charge against a shipping firm for anchoring too close to a pipe or other vessel marked on nautical charts.

Accident occurred at Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, the largest in the country.

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